In an election whose winner will most likely be determined by whichever party is most enthusiastic, every high-profile surrogate that gets involved could prove to be a crucial mobilizing force. After a week in which Republicans seemed to be gaining the upper-hand, Democrats are finally picking up the pace on behalf of Jim Martin - just in time for the start of early voting!
Bill Clinton will be stumping with Martin on Wednesday, by far the highest-profile Democrat to schedule a trip to the Peach State for now. And, in a major development, Barack Obama has decided to get involved and will cut a radio ad that will start airing tomorrow. There are still many questions remaining about how much Obama will get involved in the runoff, and Martin’s campaign would like for the President-elect to travel to Georgia and appear with Martin - just as Clinton had done in 1992 a few weeks just after carrying the state in the presidential election.
(The Democratic incumbent lost the runoff that December, allowing the GOP to crow that Clinton’s political capital had already eroded. That precedent is surely a factor weighing against a more direct involvement by Obama.)
In ordinary circumstances, Southern Democrats would be reluctant to nationalize their election. But it is essential for Martin to keep the Democratic base energized - particularly African-Americans - and that is transforming the rules of the game. In the spring, Republican candidates in LA-06 and MS-01 were accusing their special election opponents of having been endorsed by Obama - leading Travis Childers to air an extraordinary ad in which he dismissed Obama as one of those politicians “I don’t know, and have never even met.”
Fast-forward six months to another low-turnout Southern election, and the Democratic nominee is now airing an ad touting his relationship with Obama’s agenda. “Jim Martin will help Barack Obama cut taxes for the middle class, and get our economy moving again,” the announcer says, blaming Chambliss for “oppos[ing] the Obama recovery plan.”
Perhaps the Democratic victories in MS-01 and LA-06 this spring made both parties realize that this year’s enthusiasm gap was so great that Democrats stood to benefit if an election became higher-profile and linked to national stakes. We will know whether this is the case in Georgia as it was in Louisiana and Mississippi in two weeks, and we will perhaps get our first hints if the state’s Division of Elections releases early voting demographics as it did in the run-up to the general election.
Meanwhile, two other Senate races that still hang in the balance. In Alaska, we await the count of the 25,000 remaining ballots, a portion of which should be tallied today (I described what remains to be counted here). In Minnesota, we are approaching the certification date, and the state’s canvassing board should order a recount tomorrow; yet, Al Franken is now trying to delay said certification and get hundreds of rejected absentee ballots to be tallied now rather than in the recount period.
Franken’s maneuver is unlikely to function, but both parties are concerned with making themselves look wronged in order to set the stage for possible lawsuits as well as to preserve some sense of legitimacy in case they come out ahead. Christine Gregoire’s come-from-behind victory in Washington’s gubernatorial recount in 2004, for instance, made for a difficult first term and helped Dino Rossi keep this year’s rematch competitive despite the Democratic wave.